Twenty-four hours. That was the challenge. Could I endure a race of this magnitude or not? A timed race, vs. distance, was new to me. A novel approach to running. Intriguing indeed. It isn't about how quickly you can traverse a distance, it was about how long you can continue going.
I came across this race shortly after completing the Stone Mill 50 miler. I was searching around the interwebs for other ultras to run, when I remembered about timed races. in particular, I'd remembered reading about 24 hours races where the course was a 1/4 mile track, or one mile loop. Those did not appeal to me, but perhaps there was a timed trail race. Sure enough, there were!
The 24 Hour Adventure Trail Run appealed to my preferences. Fairly close to home, a longer trail loop (6.25 miles), and of course, trails!! I was hooked.... line and sinker.
There was a problem. I checked my calendar and I was already registered for the Blue Ridge Marathon for two weeks before this race. Two weeks?? Is that enough time between races? I usually feel normal within 5 days of a race. Fourteen days should be fine right?? My mind was made up. I'm running it!
This constituted a new challenge. I'd lasted 14 hours during the Stone Mill 50 Miler, but would I be able to handle passing through my sleep cycle? Once my body said it was time for bed, what then? Challenge called out and accepted.
Winter was upon us. I'd been dealing with ITBS issues, and ran the Disney World Marathon successfully. After that, it was hill training for Blue Ridge. If you're a follower, you'll know that most of my training involved the treadmill. I had little desire to pull myself outside this winter. Needless to say, my training for the Blue Ridge Marathon was not ideal, not to mention getting in any real trail work. I was hedging on faith in my own bodies abilities to overcome. Come April, it paid off just fine with The Blue Ridge Marathon. I'd survived, and overcame my bodies desire to walk in those last few miles. It was a success. I felt confident it would work for the 24 Hr ATR as well.
Those two weeks between races were lethargic. I figured there was no sense in pushing to train in those two weeks. I took them easy, rested, and focused mentally on the upcoming challenge.
Pace: I was ambitious. Given that I'd run 50 miles in under 14 hours, I figured I would shoot for 75 miles in 24 hours. The typical me, I calculated out that if I could maintain a sub 17 pace, I could enjoy about 10-15 minutes at the aid station between laps and be on target for 75 miles. The unexpected always occurs, but I felt this was a doable goal. boy was I wrong!
This race was an entire weekend event. A mandatory race meeting was scheduled for Friday evening, where an entire campsite was reserved, cabins included for the race. The plan was to leave work a bit early and drive down to the Quantico area Friday afternoon. Enjoy the pasta dinner, race meeting, then relax in the cabins until morning. All went as planned. The dinner was yummy, the race directors were awesome, and I socialized a bit and got to know some of my fellow runners. As nightfall approached, I returned to my cabin (thankfully I was able to snag one by myself), prepped all my race gear, then went out for an evening walk along the course, testing out my head gear and getting a feel for the course. Quite hilly.
Our group was serenaded by a pagan group at the neighboring cabin as bedtime approached. Oh no, I couldn't get to sleep! The anticipation (as well as a small cup of coffee at dinner) kept my mind racing. It had to be after 1:00 am before I finally nodded off, with a 5 am alarm awaiting me. Crap! I was not off to a good start!
Buzzz! buzzzz! my alarm sounded. Time to get up! I pulled myself together, taking a bit longer to wake up. Threw on my race gear, and hit the breakfast. Pancakes, eggs, etc. A rather hardy meal. I needed it. Soon, we gathered near the starting line, where additional race instructions were given. A few encouraging words, and we were ready to go. Traffic was horrible out on the main interstate, and several runners were running late (pun intended), so they pushed the race start back nearly 10 minutes. Lined up, we (all those that had made it on time) were ready to go. And then bang! Or whatever it was that signaled the start. We were off...
For those of you unfamiliar with such distance races, it was rather uneventful. There was no mass exodus of bats from hell. Few people went out guns a blazing. It was more a slow trot. Reminiscent of middle school kids forced to run laps in gym. Slow and steady we went.
I guess now would be a good time to describe the course. It's a 6.25 mile lollipop loop. The stem is approximately a mile long, then a counterclockwise loop, and back along the stem. The terrain is more difficult than Stone Mill 50 miler, and more challenging than I was expecting it to be. lots of roots, several quite rocky places. A rather step wooden bridge, and almost 100% trail. The stem wasn't particularly difficult, but the beginning and ending was fairly hilly. The first half of the loop was the easiest section of the course. Some small hills, but for the most part it was flat and relatively soft terrain. A psuedo-aid station of water/sports drink, and a few bags of chips was located about three miles in. Right after that, we climbed a fire road for about a mile, then it was rolling hills back to the stem. All together, this was a challenging loop to run once, let alone multiple reiterations.
The energy was high, and we were fairly crowded. By about the mile mark, I was running alongside a guy at a decent pace. Chatting away about everything under the sun. He'd run the race last year, so was fairly familiar with the course. We finished up this first lap fairly easily. I was in good shape, but took a good ten minutes at the aid station before heading out for lap two. I'd lost him, as he headed out before I was ready.
I headed out strong, but alone. The crowd and thinned, and there was nobody near me. This lap went well, but I was feeling fatigued by the end. Not good! Something had me drained of energy already, and it wasn't necessarily the course!
One thing I really enjoyed about this course was the interaction with fellow runners. Running the stem allowed everyone to cross paths, no matter what level you were at, you were bound to cross paths with each nearly everyone at some point. Coming into the end of Loop two, I crossed paths with a woman and she abruptly asked me if I'd run that race. I realized I'd worn my Blue Ridge Marathon shirt, and said that I had. She had done the same, and her legs were worn out already as well. Two weeks between races struck again. That confirmed it. I knew that, at least part of the reason I was already fatigued was due to Blue Ridge. Finishing up, I was still in good shape. Somewhat ahead of my intended pace.
Jen and the Kiddos:
The week before the race, Jen contacted the race director and volunteered to, well, volunteer at the race. They were running a bit behind, but thankfully I ran into the kiddos just before I started lap three. Cell phone reception was nearly nonexistent out here, so I had no clue what their ETA was. It was only pure luck that I saw them come out of a building as I was heading out for my next loop. Jen snapped off a shot. One of the few I've got from this race.
I went out fairly well this loop. The wide variety of foods kept me well nourished, but the fatigue soon set in. My running vs. walking went way down. Try as I might, the fatigue was gaining ground. I persevered, but by the end, I'd effectively hit the equivalent of the marathon wall. I took a longer break at the aid station, an enjoyed Jen's company. She was doing a great job helping runners with needs, and ferrying food back and forth from the kitchen. Soon, I was heading back out. 18.75 miles down!
I was toast. Burnt, and ready to be thrown away. This loop was probably 80% walking. I tried to run, honestly I did. But I was gone. I struck on and finished the lap, but was in severe need of some rest, of the ZZZZZ persuasion. That lack of sleep the night before finally kicked my butt. I skipped the aid station, other than some much needed water, my hydration pack went dry about 1/2 mile from completing the loop, and headed straight to my cabin with a plate of fruit in hand. I decided I would take a short nap, of about 45 minutes. Close my eyes, and hope to lessen the fatigue. It worked fairly well, although I didn't actually sleep, just laid there with some music going.
I must give thanks to the wonderful cooks that provided food for everyone the entire event. They were flat out AWESOME!!! From Pizza to Perogies, there was plenty of hot, freshly made goodies at all times. You never knew what you were going to find after completing a lap (That is, unless you happened to memorize their menu!)
I was feeling better. Refreshed and alive. Was the nap just what I needed? It sure seemed to be. My knee had been giving me some minor words, so this time around, I grabbed a stick and turned it into my running buddy. The first half of this loop I was feeling great. Not only was I running more than walking, I was feeling fairly peppy about it. That is, until I hit the backside fire road. That climb knocked me back down. I finished decently though, and took an extended break while I awaited Anne, a good friend that volunteered to pace me a loop. It worked out wonderfully, Jen and the kids were tired, and ready to leave, but they stuck around until she arrived.
I was gone. I didn't have much left to run on, but I was determined to continue on. Anne is a fellow "bugologist" that I work with, so we spent quite a bit of time talking bugs and work stuff. She's also a fellow runner, and we're putting together a group for this year's DC Ragnar Rely in the fall. Unfortunately, her "run" with me consisted of almost entirely hiking. Still it was great having someone out there with me. Not only that, we found three giant millipedes to add to our work zoo! Score!!! I was on the fence about continuing after this loop. I was dead tired, night time had set in, and the fatigue was ever increasing. much of my mental struggle this loop was trying to decide to continue or not. Within the last half mile, I decided to throw in the towel. I had nothing left. just finish this one up, and turn in my timing chip.
Finally, we reached the finish line, and I informed the timekeeper that I was done. He tried hard to convince me otherwise, but I'd already made up my mind.
Soups were out on the food table, and it felt awesome getting something hot and brothy down my stomach. The Race Director, Alex, came by, and he threw up a big fight to keep me in the game, but alas, I just couldn't go on. I was out. 15 Hours in and I'd decided to give up. 37.5 miles. It's still a heck of a run, but the cards weren't in it for me today. Lack of sleep, still recovering legs, and later, a cold, all contributed to early fatigue. i didn't know it yet, but a cold was setting in, and I ended up being out sick the next two days of work! After thanking Anne for pacing me, I hobbled to the cabin, and promptly fell asleep until morning.
Bang! The gun went off, signaling the end of the race. Which meant breakfast was waiting, and the ending ceremony. I was amazed at the distances some of these people made, but nothing near as much as I was the winner. A woman from New York that ran a heart attack-inducing 112 miles!!! She was a machine! We'd crossed paths quite a few times throughout the race, and I last saw her about 10pm, flying past me as I hobbled out my last loop. Not only her, but several others, I'd talked with persevered and made it further than they'd anticipated. Congrats to them all!
Finally, the race was over, and we all headed home. I was exhausted, my cold was getting worse, and I was feeling down about not pushing myself to continue on. By this time, I was recovered enough to wish I'd not thrown in the towel, that I'd elected to take another hours nap, and try to get back out there. It was a long ride home, then bed for most of the next three days.
In hind sight, I realize my mistake...other than the fatigue issues. My mistake was that I mentally tackled this race as I would a typical distance race. Continue on virtually nonstop, until the distance was done. You can't take a timed race in this manner. It's one step at a time, just keep going, and not looking at the end. Time is a far less forgiving feat than distance. Especially when you're mentally challenged with a difficult loop and one heck of a spread of food.
I immediately set this race on my calendar for next year. I will be back, and I will persevere! Three things I'll be doing differently.
1. No other races at least one month out.
2. Get off the treadmill this winter and hit the trails far more often. Focus on trails over road running.
3. Mentally prepare to push through those loops. It's not a distance, it's a time. I have plenty of it. I just need to manage the running to continue all night!
I don't take this race as a failure at all. I did make it 37.5 miles, making it my third ultramarathon. I did push myself beyond my limits. My limit just happened to be lower than I'd hoped. Run on!!